Arthur Cyr The Violent Middle East and American Foreign Policy


The intense and continuing violence between Hamas and Israel’s armed forces in the Gaza Strip has finally reached a difficult ceasefire. Hamas is a militant Palestinian group that has grown steadily over the years.

Israel’s security as well as regional stability are sustained priorities of US foreign policy. The interests of our two nations have not always coincided, yet the partnership endures.

The strategic context is particularly important in this part of the world. In 1973, the military and diplomatic efforts of the Nixon administration were crucial to Israel’s successful defense against a combined attack by the Arab states. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has led efforts to ease tensions in the region.

This was followed by important peace agreements. President Jimmy Carter’s determination and discipline resulted in the historic Camp David Agreement of 1978 between Egypt and Israel.

In March 1991, after the expulsion of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, President George HW Bush addressed Congress. His speech underscored the goal of achieving a stable and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Secretary of State James Baker displayed extraordinary energy and dedication in the sustained diplomacy that followed. The Madrid conference at the end of October 1991 led to the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians, and a Palestinian state, confirmed at the start of the Clinton administration. This in turn facilitated the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994.

Bush and Baker deserve enormous credit for their dedication, as well as exceptional intelligence and skill in defeating a nation’s military aggression. They did not destroy the Iraqi government, confirmed American regional leadership, and established a partially independent Palestinian authority.

The Trump administration has achieved further success. In 2020, the United States negotiated diplomatic recognition of Israel by the United Arab Emirates. White House adviser Jared Kushner successfully served as an intermediary.

The Suez crisis of 1956 remains particularly important and instructive. President Dwight Eisenhower used economic leverage and astute diplomacy to end an old-fashioned colonial military invasion secretly planned by Britain, France and Israel to retake the Suez Canal, which had been nationalized by the new Egyptian military regime, and seize the Sinai Peninsula.

As usual, Ike’s instincts were targeted and our alliance relationships survived. Harold Macmillan replaced Anthony Eden as British Prime Minister.

Macmillan acknowledged that the United States had succeeded Britain as the main source of diplomatic and strategic leadership in the Mediterranean. The Soviet Union was able to exploit the situation to strengthen its ties with the Arab states, especially Syria.

Two years later, Eisenhower intervened directly in Lebanon with significant military force. Given the volatile nature of the region in general and the armed conflict creating destruction in Lebanon, many observers viewed the intervention with concern.

American troops suffered only one soldier killed by hostile fire. Our forces were concentrated in downtown Beirut, the port and the airport. The crisis did not escalate and Eisenhower withdrew our forces.

Our forces entered Lebanon in 1958 to occupy specific potentially vulnerable areas, for a mission strictly limited in time as well as in space.

Today Iran, Russia and Turkey are steadily expanding their influence in the region. The first is a militant opponent. The second was our main enemy during the Cold War. The latter is a NATO ally but currently antagonistic.

George HW Bush and James Baker reinvigorated our leadership in the Middle East, creating a basis for stability. This legacy continues, waiting for American leaders to rise to the demanding challenges.

Read more: GHW Bush and Brent Scowcroft, “A Transformed World”

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact [email protected]

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